President Obama’s Israeli trip

March 19th, 2013

zelnick11-150x150President Obama prepares to make his first presidential visit trip to Israel. Boston University journalism professor Robert Zelnick is a former ABC News Middle East correspondent and author of  Israeli Unilateralism: Beyond Gaza. He offers the following opinion on President Obama’s trip and the impact of foreign policy on his presidency.

Bill Clinton is known to have complained to Yasser Arafat that his failure to accept a U.S.-sponsored peace deal would relegate Clinton from a ‘near-great’ to an ‘average’ ranking in the pantheon of American presidents.  On this matter Clinton was right: the foreign relations part of his presidency was disappointing  — not disastrous but nothing to give tremors of concern to the likes of Andrew Jackson, James K. Polk, Teddy Roosevelt, or even Harry Truman and Ronald Reagan.

Now comes Barack Obama, through the voice of his new secretary of state, John Kerry, determined to raise no false hopes with regards to the Arab-Israeli dispute.  In fact, Kerry suggests that the kind of effort once directed toward the Arab-Israeli dispute will become more diffuse with such issues as a nuclear Iran, the grinding Syrian insurrection, and the search for the elusive ‘Arab Spring’ sharing Obama’s energy and attention.

But the recent history of the Middle East cautions against optimism that significant deals can be reached in one dispute while others are left to fester.  The Arab-Israeli conflict — shown to be negotiable in dozens of mock sessions and at least two real ones — impacts strongly on Iran’s apparent intention to develop nuclear weapons, the standing of the radical Hezbollah movement in Lebanon and its policy toward the Sunni-dominated  areas of Iraq which posed such great difficulty for the U.S. in the second Gulf War.

When one considers the records of those presidents who excelled in foreign policy versus those whom history will pass by, one sees among the former group a handful of attributes.  First, a clear vision of what he seeks to achieve.  Second, a clear appreciation of the stakes.  Third, an appreciation of the obstacles to be encountered and the costs of failure.  Fourth, the cost of doing nothing.  And fifth, the virtues of being judged un homme serieux.

As of now, Obama appears a man who has made little foreign policy effort and has little to show for it.

Contact Zelnick at 617-353-5007 or

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